The number of college students seeking counselling has hit a record high, as “mounting” waiting lists take their toll on an already overstretched and under- resourced support service.
More than 10,000 students attended on-campus counselling in the past 12 months — a 300% increase in the last eight years.
In the academic year 2007/08, third-level counselling services saw 3,863 students. In 2012/13, this had risen to around 8,000.
As a result of the dramatic rise in students seeking help, counsellors from third-level institutions all across the country are calling for more funding to help adequately resource on-campus mental health services for students.
Very interesting graph from IAUCC - there have been huge increase in demand for 3rd level counselling services pic.twitter.com/Re9zEMTzpH— Kelly O'Brien (@Kellingtondawg) April 9, 2015
“There’s an increased complexity of mental health problems out there at the moment and there are more and more people willing to come forward for help,” said Declan Aherne from the Irish Association of University and College Counsellors (IAUCC). “Years ago, it wasn’t acceptable to look for help, but now it is.”
The most common problems are depression, bullying, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, academic stress, low mood, and anxiety.
“Sadly, I’m all too familiar with the plight of students who find themselves in crisis situations,” said Ciarán Ó Catháin, president of Athlone Institute of Technology, speaking at the IAUCC annual conference.
“A first-class honours graduate who took her own life after completing her degree; a student unable to cross the Shannon for fear he will throw himself into the river; another who became paranoid and hated everyone; a bullied student who brutally self-harmed and attempted suicide.”
Prof Ó Catháin said these students can be helped through counselling and other on-campus services if these services are allocated the appropriate resources.
“While counselling services within institutions respond to student needs, HSE services are either not available or are increasingly difficult to access in crisis cases,” said Prof Ó Catháin. “This is an issue which affects all higher education institutions, with the result that colleges are left ‘holding’ the crisis.
“Students referred to HSE mental health services by their college won’t be seen if their home address is outside the sectoral area, and in many cases the students can’t afford to return to their home county on a weekly or fortnightly basis to be treated. And this is even assuming that mental health services are available in that region.”
Prof Ó Catháin said this is an issue that “urgently” needs to be highlighted: “Policy makers, politicians, those in the departments of education, finance, and public expenditure, as well as parents, need to be made aware of the prevalence, severity and impact of mental health difficulties on campus.”
Meanwhile, preliminary results revealed at the conference from a study investigating where students prefer to receive information and support for their mental health and wellbeing, shows
63% of those surveyed said they would turn to the Student Counselling Service first if they felt they needed support or information.
Students also indicated that they would be willing to participate in online counselling if specifically offered by the Student Counselling Service and reported a very high willingness to use other online resources.
More than 5,000 students have responded to the study, by ReachOut.com in conjunction with the IAUCC and the HSE. The study is to conclude in October, with results to inform the planning of mental health support for students into the future.
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